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Posted on Mon, May 6, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

$6 million low-income housing project for veteran families proposed in Ypsilanti Township

By Tom Perkins

When Julie Fielek first met Iraq Desert Storm veteran Stephanie Kuczynski, she was managing two large redevelopment projects that would convert a Detroit apartment building into veteran housing.

But not long before that, Kuczynski's life was much different.

After returning from Iraq, she found herself pregnant after a rape, addicted to drugs and homeless. But as she sought help, she found that many veteran shelters and services were designed for single men.

“She was shattered, but she didn’t fit in anywhere,” said Fielek, who was already getting more involved with veterans issues when she met Kuczynski.

Through a few breaks and with no small amount of determination, Kuczynski was able to turn her life around and get involved with assisting other veterans.

Her story was part of the inspiration that led to Fielek proposing converting her 64-unit, 8.5-acre Oakridge Apartment complex in Ypsilanti Township into housing that would also accommodate veteran women and families.

The complex would not only serve as low-income housing, but also provide veterans services to improve their lives and offer some degree of partnership with the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System .

The $6 million project is a partnership with Fielek, Premier Property Management and Slavik Building and Development, and would be the first low-income housing development for veterans in Washtenaw County. Additionally, it would be the only in the state designed with families in mind.

“This type of housing is becoming a big trend,” said Bob Beale, owner of Premier. “There’s a big push by Veterans Affairs to eliminate homeless veteran issues by 2015.

OakRidge_Apartments.jpg

Oakridge Apartments in Ypsilanti Township

Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com

“With the winding down of the wars, there’s not a lack of returning vets. It is a significant problem.”

A “moment-in-time” snapshot by Washtenaw Housing Alliance found more than 200 homeless veterans in Washtenaw County.

Julie Steiner, executive director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, said the push by Veterans Affairs to eliminate the homeless veteran population is bringing attention to the issue. In Washtenaw County, Veterans Affairs recently teamed up with the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department to offer 125 section 8 vouchers specifically for veterans.

“There is a lot of news about it and I think developers are responding,” Steiner said.

The proposed Oakridge veterans housing project was the result of several things happening concurrently.

Fielek got more interested in veterans’ issues after learning about veterans housing for men in Lansing four years ago. There she noticed a lack of housing for veterans with families and how veterans’ benefits don’t extend to the family. She also noticed a new type of veteran who was younger and skilled but lacked the ability to convert their skills into something employers found attractive. Her interest was growing when she met Kuczynski.

At the same time, Fielek found the Oakridge complex at 1326 Holmes Road only breaking even after she built it 20 years ago. She said she maintains the property well, but it's now in need of new roofs, new parking lots and other major renovations.

As she discussed what to do with the housing with her son, he suggested they pursue low-income housing credits that would make the project feasible. Beale, who manages Oakridge, has experience renovating low-income high rises in Detroit into housing for the elderly, and made the perfect co-developer.

OakRidge_Apartments_1.jpg

Oakridge Apartments would become a unique complex catering to veteran families.

Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com

Of the 64 units, 19 are two bedroom and the rest are three bedroom, which is a break from the usual utilitarian one-bedroom, one-bathroom veterans housing stock, Fielek said.

“I think we’re very unique simply because we want to house women, families, parents and children,” she said.

Plans include a community center that would house a physician who is attempting new approaches to treating post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. The budget also includes a van that would transport residents back and forth to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Beale said there has no commitment from Veterans Affairs to partner with Oakridge, but he said he is hopeful they would offer some kind of services at the complex.

Although the housing would be considered permanent, Oakridge would also offer services centering around housing issues or how to progress to home ownership.

Beale said the third type of service Oakridge would provide centers around life skills. Local groups would provide classes on healthy living, relationship building, cooking, budgeting, parenting and other similar courses.

Beale said the development team is submitting its applications for low income tax credits in August. If they are approved, the project must also receive site plan review and approval from Ypsilanti Township.

Urban County recently agreed to provide $420,000 in Washtenaw County HOME funds, which is federal dollars provided to Urban Counties through HUD. The group also will be seeking low-income housing tax credits, project-based vouchers, private capital and other grants.

Construction could begin as early as April 2014, Beale said, and he expects it would wrap up a year later.

Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter. Contact the AnnArbor.com news desk at news@annarbor.com.

Comments

Jay Thomas

Tue, May 7, 2013 : 12:56 a.m.

I'm all for vets but it is true that Ypsi just loves anything low income. That's kind of what they've been aiming for the entire time.

Sara

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:39 p.m.

Awesome idea! I am so glad to see something like this for our female vets and their families!

leezee

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 2:03 p.m.

Bad idea since there are extremely few homeless vets in thus area. And the few that are here, are men. I don't know why Steiner continues to spew these blatantly false numbers. I believe she feels a housing community such as this would be feather in her cap. Not sure why unless there is a plan to bring homeless vets here from other areas, but where will they work when the homeless people that are already here can't even find jobs. Two years ago Steiner initiated a federal grant for housing for homeless vets that was not awarded primarily because our homeless vet population is virtually non- existent. Think about that when you laud these inane efforts.

slave2work

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 4:16 p.m.

Wow, where have you been?.. there has been many articles and studies from many sources that show homeless veterans is a big issue. Have you ever been to the VA hospital?.. I worked there and you see them all the time. Many vets have no transportation so they can't get or afford to get to the VA. Thats why there is such a need for buses, and vans.Did you not see the articles and pictures that ANNarbor.com had of the tents outside of the VA trying to set up and help the homeless vets?..This article stated this was a female vet. I'm sure they have different issues than the men, especially if they have children. Do you think it's ok for the courts to take the children of female soldiers away just because they had to deploy overseas?. it is happening all over the country. Something has to be done.

Pamela LaForest Fulcher

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 1:23 p.m.

There are already so many low income housing projects in Ypsi. that are in deplorable condition. Why more section 8? I am concerned that the property will go down the drain like so many other projects in Ypsi. I will keep my fingers crossed that decent people that care about where they live will keep it decent and just not another scary place in Ypsi.

Sara

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:40 p.m.

Don't you believe our vets deserve to have decent places to live after the sacrifice they provided to keep you safe?

nekm1

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

I don't understand how Korean War Vets, and WW II Vets did it without government housing? Why are these vets different? I agree to provide more support to put folks on their feet if needed, but public housing? Hasn't worked for the indigent, so why would it work for Vets? Why do we continue to create this pool of folks dependent on the government for everything?

nekm1

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 4:06 p.m.

Sara, I suggest you review all that is available for returning Vets, at this site. Vets are hardly "left out in the cold". http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book.asp

Sara

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

Actually, WW2 and Korean vets had the GI bill and numerous other government programs to help them and their families. These included low cost mortgages, cash payments to attend college or vocational school, and one year unemployment pay. Do you consider the Greatest Generation a pool of folks dependent on the government for everything? After all, I bet most of the WW2 vets are getting health care through the VA and Social Security helps to pay their bills. I know my grandfather who served in the war did. I personally think that when vets sacrifice their time, their families, their bodies, and their youth to protect us from the likes of Hitler and Al Qeyda that they certainly deserve all the compensation and public projects we can create for them. BTW...Public housing isn't necessarily the projects. The housing on base is technically publicly funded housing. So is the White House, for that matter.

Wondering

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 12:10 p.m.

It is unclear that homeless veterans need a separate housing community for homeless veterans.... Perhaps what homeless veterans need is a little support in stabilizing their civilian lives and then in obtaining progressively more responsible *jobs* that pay a living wage so they can rejoin the larger community as the capable competent adults that their military service demonstrates that they are.

Sara

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:50 p.m.

No one is trying to segregate them. However, if you are a vet struggling to get back on your feet, then it is helpful to live in a community of like minded folks with the same goals, who understand what you are dealing with, and being clustered makes it much easier to set up services and programs that can help vets transition from military to civilian life.

mrmoose

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 11:19 a.m.

All I read in this story is some people making big money off the taxpayers. The money would be better spend if it was gaven to the veterans to find a place to live.

Sara

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:51 p.m.

So glad to know that you support something like the GI bill.

djacks24

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 2:47 p.m.

Or a barely breaking even apartment complex that is in need of extensive repairs looking for a way to subsidize tax dollars to make a profit.

missmisery

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 10:52 a.m.

Great idea! Let's hope this comes to fruition!